How Do You Stop "A Good Guy With A Gun?"
Gun ownership and American culture go hand-in-hand. Enshrined in the Constitution, and relentlessly preserved by the gun lobby, the sheer amount of guns owned by Americans sets the United States apart from other developed countries. This aspect of American society comes with its share of consequences; among these, gun violence — an ever-present issue in the United States that claimed the lives of 39,773 Americans in 2017. Galvanized by recent mass shootings, politicians, media outlets, lobbyists and activists across the political spectrum have passionately defended or decried the Second Amendment. The incidence of interpersonal gun violence certainly demands our attention and will require intentional, good-faith dialogue and compromise if any real change is to occur. But the current discussion surrounding gun violence ignores a tragic reality of the situation — of the 39,773 gun deaths in 2017, nearly two-thirds of these deaths were suicides.
For the first time since World War I and the outbreak of the Spanish Flu pandemic, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined — namely from overdose and suicide. It’s not clear as to why the conversation surrounding gun violence rarely, if at all, addresses what experts and officials alike are labeling a public health crisis. Perhaps suicide lacks the narrative simplicity of villains and victims. Perhaps it doesn’t draw the attention of viewers and constituents. Or, perhaps, we — like many of those who take their own lives — feel like we can’t talk about the issue, and maybe nobody cares to listen. Suicide is almost entirely unique to the human experience, as few, if any, other species have the ever-present ability to opt out of existence. For all of human history, suicide has been romanticized, demonized, and everything in between, but never before has there been a more effective, accessible means by which to do so than guns. Although guns are only used in six percent of suicide attempts, more than half of those who commit suicide use a firearm.
Diagnosing the problem presents a difficult task, as gun ownership does not correlate with suicidal tendencies, but rather in the efficacy with which one can do the deed itself. Catherine Barber, director of Harvard University’s Injury Control Research Center Means Matter campaign, a suicide prevention organization, remarked, “Actually, among gun owners, a smaller proportion say that they had attempted suicide. So it’s not that gun owners are more suicidal. It’s that they’re more likely to die in the event that they become suicidal, because they are using a gun.” But the question remains: how do you stop “a good guy with a gun” when they intend to use it on themselves?
The majority of common-sense gun measures that have been implemented in American legislature, such as the Trump Administration’s ban on bump stocks, address people using guns to hurt others. The national dialogue must shift to address the link between suicide rates and gun ownership. There must be a social reckoning where Americans begin to understand the immense and devastating correlation between access to guns and suicide rates. Suicide in America has become as much a public health and safety crisis as it has become a mental health one. The fact remains that there are more firearm suicides than firearm homicides in America. Recognizing the relationship between guns and suicide is imperative for developing more comprehensive gun control policies that take into account the full reality of the situation.